Difficult decisions ahead for library

LEWISTOWN – The Mifflin County Library is staying afloat, but it’s not out of the water yet.

At this time last year, library administration compared the organization to “a sinking ship,” plagued by insufficient funding and low circulation at its branch facilities.

After closing its Allensville and Milroy branches, Executive Director Molly Kinney said the library is more stable, but not stable enough.

“I’m not going to tell you there aren’t going to be more difficult decisions,” she said. “We are not living within our budget.”

Kinney said the library’s annual fundraising campaign – which launched in May – compensates for some of the budget deficit. This year, the campaign slogan states, “If every adult in Mifflin County gave $5, we’d survive … $25, we’d thrive.”

“We’re not interested in raising property taxes,” Kinney said. “Our interest is in having every adult support the library.”

However, supporting the library isn’t only about the costs of maintaining buildings.

“When you don’t have enough circulation of materials, when people are not using computers … it increases the cost per transaction,” Kinney said.

At this time, she said patrons’ borrowing costs $1.78 per transaction at the main branch in Lewistown, $1.58 at the Kish Branch Library and $4.71 at the Rothrock Branch Library.

“Everybody wants a library, but there is a difference between using and supporting a library” Kinney explained.

As costs of salaries, wages, benefits, technology, materials and programs rise, the library must continually re-evaluate its income and expenses.

“We’ve managed to reduce technology costs almost in half,” Kinney said.

Within the past year, the library changed internet providers and launched a new website and borrowing network.

“I think there are ways to provide people with a library without having a building,” she said.

The library is slowly becoming available to area residents 24/7, and Kinney said online services have increased access even as physical services are condensed into fewer facilities.

Despite the transition to online borrowing, Kinney said she doesn’t see the library moving toward an exclusively online format.

“It’s that human interaction that separates libraries from bookstores,” she said. “It’s more than that, but it is that. Human connection is the strength of the library.”

She explained how building an interactive online community can enhance library services.

Throughout the past year, Kinney said administration have worked hard to gather statistics and data related to library use and facility efficiency.

The Mifflin County Library also was selected to be a part of the Edge Initiative, which is an assessment tool that analyzes public libraries and identifies areas of improvement. Kinney said the library was one of 60 in Pennsylvania to be selected as a “beta tester” for the program.

“We were the only rural, small library in the joint,” she said.

Technology was one of the target areas identified by Edge, she said. Since then, the library has added a technology coordinator position to help with implementing a new management system, adding more bandwidth to the network and improving online access through the library’s website.

Kinney said the library is in a much better place now than it was last year, when all operations would cease if funding wasn’t available by Sept. 1. However, the organization has a long road ahead, which won’t be traveled without more changes to daily operations, she said.